World Gratitude Day
We all want to be happy. It’s one of the most important life goals, if not the most, and the science of happiness has a simple and effective practice to increase happiness. Gratitude is probably familiar to you as ‘counting your blessings’. In positive psychology practising gratitude is a way of acknowledging and appreciating the good things in life. It’s powerful because it flicks our focus from the negative to the positive.
The mind operates in one of two basic modes. A scarcity mindset brings awareness of what is lacking in our lives, which triggers negative thoughts and emotions. Gratitude helps us develop an abundance mindset, where we appreciate what we do have. This leads to the positive emotion of gratitude – “a felt sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life” according to psychologist Robert Emmons, author of The Little Book of Gratitude.
There are many benefits for wellbeing from practising gratitude. It leads to higher levels of happiness, hope, optimism, enthusiasm, energy, positivity, spirituality and forgiveness. And lower levels of stress hormones, depression, anxiety, loneliness, envy, neuroticism and materialism.
Gratitude is a remedy for three of the main obstacles to happiness
The brain has got a negativity bias, so we are wired to notice what’s wrong before we notice what’s right. It is a way of alerting us to danger but unfortunately what’s wrong is strong! We’re more likely to notice the bad stuff than the good. Practising gratitude helps us tune into the positives and overcome this negativity bias. The hedonic treadmill is where we take the positive things in life for granted. Gratitude helps us have a fresh appreciation for what’s really important to us. Social comparisons, where we compare ourselves to people we consider to be better off, is also toxic for our wellbeing. Gratitude helps us value our loved ones and the love they give us. To sum up the way gratitude works according to Bob Emmons:
- Gratitude amplifies the good we see in ourselves and the world.
- Gratitude rescues us from negativity of thoughts and news headlines.
- Gratitude connects us to others, strengthening relationships.
How to Practise Gratitude
Hunt the Good Stuff. An easy way to get started with gratitude is to look around your environment right now. What is there to appreciate? What do you value? It might be the tech that connects you to the wider world, a loved one who means a lot to you or something of beauty – flowers or artwork.
Three Good Things. This is probably the best-known gratitude practice. Every day ask yourself:
- What is good in my life?
- Who am I grateful to?
- What went well? (Plus identify your role in it going well).
A micro version of Three Good Things is Gratitude Hours. Make a list hour-by-hour of all the things that you appreciate since you got up this morning such as a good night’s sleep, refreshing shower etc. Then notice the emotion associated with each item.
|Time||What I appreciated||How I felt|
|0700 – 0800||Sleeping well||Relaxed|
|0800 – 0900||Eating tasty breakfast||Satisfied|
|0900 – 1000||Receiving email re new project||Excited|
Gratitude Journal Keeping a gratitude journal is like a good news diary which acts as a track record of positive events that you might otherwise forget. It’s a small act that can make a big difference to wellbeing. I’ve been keeping gratitude journals for over 20 years and it has transformed how I feel. When I go back and reread my old journals it’s like you get another dose of the positive feelings. Prof Sonja Lyubomirsky, author of The How of Happiness, suggests doing it as often as feels engaging so that you don’t get bored with it. I do it on a Sunday so it’s a good time to look back on the week that’s been and forward to the new week.
Gratitude at Work Appreciation and gratitude are closely related concepts but gratitude goes one step further. It recognises how the positive things in our lives – like a success at work – are often due to forces outside of ourselves, particularly the efforts of other people. We all need to feel valued and appreciated at work. It helps us feel inspired and motivated and like we’re doing something meaningful. The simple act of saying thank you builds trust, confidence and a team spirit. It is a win: win leading to higher levels of engagement and job satisfaction for people and to higher levels of innovation and performance for a business. Giving out FRE- Frequent Recognition and Encouragement can produce a 40% increase in team productivity according to Margaret Greenberg, co-author of Profit from the Positive. Here are three things you can do to increase people’s feeling of being valued:
- Say Thank You and Get Specific with praise. ‘I appreciate how you did….’. Describe the process used to deliver great results. This is ‘process-praise’, which helps us feel inspired to replicate the success. People hear criticism but respond to praise. Make sure you convey your thoughtfulness with the compliment by stopping whatever else you’re doing when you express your positive feedback. Appreciation doesn’t always get communicated effectively so make it a priority.
- Give FRE Freely and Frequently. Be on the lookout for opportunities to give positive feedback to your co-workers. Don’t be stingy. Make it a daily habit and send a positive ripple throughout your team.
- Celebrate the Small Stuff. Don’t wait until a huge success or the end of your project to celebrate and recognise the good stuff. Find smaller milestones along the way. Remember that feedback can go in any direction: peer to peer, manager to employee, or employee to manager. Whether it’s a success or a birthday or simply a good day, celebrating it will generate positive emotions which will make you feel good and inspire you to achieve more.
Pictures: Houdr1, cleanpng.com; Gabrielle Henderson, Unsplash.